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THAT this book is an attempt, only an attempt, with
many deficiencies, the writer of it is well aware. The
would-be severest critic could not criticise it more
severely than he. But a pioneer may surely at all
"times claim a certain measure of grace and indulgence,
if the critic find here anything that is truly useful
all, he is courteously entreated to lend his much-
needed aid to make the book better, instead of picking
out the many shortcomings which a first attempt in
this philological field cannot but display. The book
has been long a-gathering, and has been compiled in
the mere shreds and fragments of time which could be
spared from the conscientious discharge of exception-
ally heavy ministerial work. It has been composed
away from all large libraries, to which the writer was
only able to make occasional reference ; and both in
the writing and in the passing through the press
though he has done his best he has been subject to
incessant interruption. But nobody else had hitherto
attempted a task, whose accomplishment not a few
seemed to desire ; hence this book.


Some may be disappointed with the large use of
conjecture. The words ' perhaps ' and ' probably ' may
occur oftener than they would like. But, from the
nature of the case, this was unavoidable. And indeed
all science is daily being advanced by the hypotheses
of trained workers. The writer has endeavoured to
keep all his conjectures within the bounds of scientific

It must not be expected that so satisfactory a guide
to the Place-Names of Scotland can ever be produced
as the public already has for the names of England and
Ireland, and for this simple reason, that the materials
to form its foundation, to a large extent, no longer
exist. This is sufficiently explained in the body of
the work. As will soon be seen, the majority of the
names dealt with are Celtic, and the writer would at
once frankly confess that he has only an amateur's
knowledge of Gaelic ; but he has tried what he could,
with the aid of dictionary and grammar, and also
with the kind aid, to some extent, of a few Gaelic
friends. The dictionary used is M'Leod and Dewar's,
to whose standard the Gaelic spelling is usually con-
formed. But a scholarly Gaelic dictionary, such as a
philologist would like to be able to consult, is still sadly
to seek.

The book owes much to the work of others. Special
mention must be made of the valuable contribution of
the writer's only real predecessor, Sir Herbert Maxwell,
in his Studies in the Topography of Galloway, 1885,
of which considerable use has been made, and for which


most grateful thanks are now tendered to the author.
The historical substratum has, of course, been taken
chiefly from Dr W. F. Skene's classic history of Celtic
Scotland, 3 vols., edition 1886. Would that the
learned historian had condescended to explain some
more of those difficult early names, about which he
has given us a few most useful hints. The writer
has to express his personal indebtedness to Dr Skene
for more than one communication with which he
has been favoured. For things Celtic and things
Norse, too, this book owes not a little both to the
published writings and to private letters of the Edin-
burgh Professor of Celtic, Professor M'Kinnon. His
article Gaelic, in the new edition of Chambers's Ency-
clopcedia, has been very helpful ; but, above all, his
scholarly series of letters on the Place-Names of
Argyle, which unfortunately lie buried in the ephemeral
columns of the Scotsman, October 1887 to January
1888. These letters are the most competent contribu-
tion to the subject which have yet appeared. To a
much smaller extent the writer is under obligation to
various publications of Professor Rhys, by whom he
has been favoured with at least occasional private help.
Hearty acknowledgment is, furthermore, due to the
ready assistance of Dr J. A. H. Murray, the laborious
editor of the great New English Dictionary, who can
always spare ten minutes to help a friend ; and through
the writer's connection with the great Oxford dictionary
he has more than once been privileged to draw upon
its unpublished as well as published stores. Topo-


graphical books and articles innumerable have been
ransacked. Special mention needs to be made of the
interesting first chapter of Professor Veitch's History
and Poetry of the Scottish Border, 1878, and Bishop
Forbes' Kalendars of Scottish Saints. For more
reasons than one no material has been borrowed from
Isaac Taylor's well-known Words and Places. But
both series of Dr P. W. Joyce's most scholarly and
most entertaining Irish Names and Places have been
freely used.

A few things hitherto unpublished will be found in
the Introduction ; but the chief contribution to know-
ledge will be found in the Alphabetical List of Names
which follows, of which by far the most is original.
No such collection of early name-forms (on which all
scientific study must be based) has ever appeared
hitherto. Many have been taken from various books,
but most of them have been laboriously picked out by
the writer from the valuable, but, as a rule, by no means
easy to consult, publications of the Bannatyne and
Spalding Clubs. The early charters have, to some
extent, been systematised in Cosmo Innes' great but
unfinished Origines Parochiales, 1851-55, which have
been our chief quarry. Volume I. contains the parishes
in Dumbarton, Renfrew, Lanark, Peebles, Selkirk,
Roxburgh ; Volume II. Part I., Argyle, all the Western
Isles, Lochaber, Bute, and Arran ; Part II., Ross and
Cromarty, Sutherland, Caithness. The name-forms
have each been dated as accurately as possible ; but
detailed references have very rarely been given, as this


would have added very greatly to the bulk and labour
of the work, with but little corresponding advan-

No attempt has been made to make the List
exhaustive. Its size might with ease be trebled ;
and F. H. Groome's excellent Ordnance Gazetteer of
Scotland, 1885, contains many more names than are
to be found here. Nevertheless the writer ventures
to hope that he has omitted few names known
beyond a ten-mile radius, and few names likely to
interest the ordinary traveller by road, rail, or sea.
Comparisons with places in England are chiefly based
on the Postal Guide (July 1890), whose list is the most
complete with which the writer is acquainted. Of
course it is impossible for one man to know every site
even in little Scotland ; and thus some few of the
explanations conjectured may turn out inapplicable.
But it is hoped that the critic will believe that, in
several cases, this is not due to lack of effort, but to
the fact that a reply post-card addressed to the writer
is still lying unused in some spot not far away from the
site in question. Valuable hints for the compilation of
this list have been received from many friends. Speci-
ally deserving of mention are the Rev. J. M'Lean,
Pitilie, Aberfeldy ; Mr A. J. Stewart, Schoolhouse,
Moneydie, Perth ; Dr Joass, Golspie ; Dr Laing, New-
burgh ; Dr Joseph Anderson ; Rev. John S. Mackay,
Fort Augustus, and probably others. To all those
mentioned in this Preface the writer would again
express his grateful indebtedness, but he would have


it distinctly understood that for all errors and short-
comings he alone is responsible.

Last, but by no means least, he must very warmly
thank his publisher for not a few additions and much
help most liberally rendered while the sheets were
passing through the press. This only he would add,
that all communications, corrections, and additions will
be gladly welcomed by the reader's fellow-student,


December 1891.
















ADDENDA, .... 254



EVERY science has its byways as well as its highways.
It is along an interesting byway that this book invites
the student to walk. The study of place-names may be
said to stand to History and Ethnology in somewhat the
same relation as the study of fossils stands to Geology.
Each group or set of fossils represents, with more or less
strictness, a distinct age of geologic time ; so, roughly
speaking, does each group of place-names represent a
period of historic or prehistoric time. All the place-
names worth studying are fossils ; no man now living
was present at their birth. Sometimes the geologist
who wishes to map out his territory finds his task the
simplest possible ; e.g., for hundreds of monotonous
miles over the steppes of Russia he finds the same
strata, the same soft Permian sandstones, lying hori-
zontal and unaltered as on the day, or rather age, when
first they hardened on the old sea-bottom. At other
times, though he may have only fifty, or even twenty,
square miles to map out, the geologist finds his task
one of extreme difficulty and complexity. Half a dozen
different systems crop up in that little space, and



igneous rocks rise here and there among the aqueous,
crumpling, distorting, and altering all things around ;
such a region is the Isle of Arran, or the English
counties along the Welsh border. Again, the eager
fossil-hunter is sometimes delighted on splitting open
a nodule, or in cleaving the thin lamina? of the shale, to
discover an exquisitely symmetrical ammonite, or a yet
more delicate fern, in shape as perfect as the day it
died. But, just as often, the only specimens he can
find are fragments crushed and broken, which require
the highly-trained eye of the expert to tell what once
they were.

Now, if the devotee of such a physical science as
geology will but lay aside his hammer and his pocket-
microscope for a little while, he will find somewhat
similar problems to study when he grapples with
(Scottish) place-names. Sometimes his task will be all
plain sailing, if only he have learnt the rudiments
of the craft ; e.g., for miles and miles in the central
Highlands he will find himself in a purely Gaelic
region, where all the names are as unmistakably
Gaelic as they were on the far-off, unknown day when
they were born. In sound and shape these names are as
they have ever been since history began. But in other
districts, more especially in those where English has
long been spoken, the old names have often come down
to us in much-corrupted and truncated forms, some-
times in a ludicrously-altered form, which it requires
the greatest skill and care and patience to decipher
if, indeed, the name can now be deciphered at all.

The subject which is here to be treated, the Place-
Names of Scotland, is one which has never yet been
grappled with as a whole ; and even when we have
done our best it will be found that there is much, and


that the most difficult part of the work, yet to be
done. Too many of those who have tried their 'prentice
hands at the task have proceeded in the most reck-
less fashion, in giving way to unscientific guess-work
which, like the obstructive undergrowths in the
virgin forest, must first be cleared away before we
can begin to make our road at all. But much
foundation work, much pioneering, has already been
done, and done well. And now, thanks to the labours
of Skene, and Rhys, and Joyce, and many true men
more, it should be impossible that, e.g., Poma Dei
should ever again be put forward as the likely etymology
of that place which Glasgow railwaymen know so
well Polmadie. 1 Nor do we think that any grown-up
person will ever believe any more that the name of
Dr Chalmers' well-known first charge, Kilmeny, can
have any reference to a command to slaughter a
multitude !

Our treatment of the subject will be historic, pro-
ceeding strictly in order of time. The first chapter
will refer to all we know of the aborigines of
Britain call them Iberians, Ivernians, Silurians, or
what you please and then will rapidly discuss the
largest and most complicated portion of our task the
Celtic names. Then purely English or Anglo-Saxon,
Scandinavian, and Norman names will each receive a
chapter ; and with the Norman we will treat the Roman
names, a group too insignificant to call for separate
handling. Purely modern names will be dealt with
last of all ; and, as ecclesiastical names form so large
and important a group, they will receive a chapter to
themselves. The study will be no mere dilettante
trifling. The historian, the philologist, the antiquarian,
1 Gaelic, poll madaidh, 'pool of the wolf or 'wild dog.'


the anthropologist will, each and all, find for them-
selves side-lights both helpful and interesting ; and Dr
Murray's great English Dictionary will sometimes
be supplemented by earlier instances of words than
any which its learned columns now record see List,

What further seems needful to be said in introduc-
tion, by way of rule, caution, or useful hint, we shall
now throw into a series of numbered paragraphs :

(1) It will be found in Scotland, 1 as in any other
country, that the oldest place-names, the names which,
like the hard granite, best resist weathering, are those
of large rivers, mountains, and promontories, and of all
islands. The names of rivers and islands especially are,
as a rule, root-words, and therefore archaic, and difficult
to explain. In a few cases we cannot explain them at
all, because we know practically nothing of the ancient
language to which they probably belong. The names
of man's dwellings change pretty often ; but the name
of a big ben or a steady-flowing river has hardly ever
been known to change.

(2) Every place-name means something, or at least
once meant something. Only in this degenerate 19th
century have men begun to coin silly, meaningless
names. Only within late years could a Dickens or a
Thackeray have had the chance of satirising his neigh-
bour for calling No. 153 in a dingy back street, full
20 feet above the level of the sea, Mount Pleasant, or
for christening an ugly brick house, in full sight of a
gaswork, Belle Vue. But Brother Jonathan does even
worse. In the newly-erected State of Washington

ome of the county names are Snohomish, Klickitat,

1 Cf. Skeue, Celtic Scotland, vol. i. bk. i. chap, iv., a very valuable


Yakima, Wahkikum, Chehalis. Those monstrosities
are not the vocables of the fast-dying Red Indian.
They were made by the simple process of shaking the
letters of the alphabet in a sack, and then emptying
them out, by instalments, on the floor !

(3) It may be taken as a general rule that every
name was once fairly appropriate. Therefore try, if
possible, to study names, as every honest student
studies his quotations, in situ, on the spot. But one
must not always expect to find the name appropriate
to-day. The cause or circumstance which gave rise
to the name may have utterly passed away. What
was ' Kingsbarns ' once need not be so now. Or the
physical aspect of the site may have become entirely
altered ; e.g., many think that CALTOX l means ' bald,
bare hill,' G. calbh dun, which may well be ; and the
' bald hill ' is still to be seen plain enough in Edinburgh ;
but little trace of it can be found among the wynds and
courts which now cover ' the Calton ' in Glasgow.

(4) Though every name has a real meaning, never
prophesy unless you knoiu. It is quite likely that a
name does not mean what it says, or seems to say;
and a name which looks like English pure and simple
may possibly not be English at all. Abundant
illustration of this will be found further on. Mean-
time, take one illustration. There is a spot in the
Stewartry in the parish of New Abbey which at present
goes by the sadly vulgar and thoroughly English-look-
ing name of SHAMBELLY. On examination this turns
out to be pure Gaelic, scan baile (shanbally), which has
the very innocent meaning of ' old house ' or ' hamlet.' 2

1 The printing of a name in capitals means See further information
in the List.

" See Sir Herbert Maxwell's Studies in the Topography of Gallon-ay,
1887 p. 283.


(5) It is thus of the highest consequence, wherever
possible, to secure not only an old but the very oldest
extant form or spelling of a name. For, though a
name may be spelt so-and-so to-day, it by no means
follows that it was always spelt thus. And frequently
it is only when one sees the old form that any idea
of the name's true meaning can be reached. This also
will find copious illustration as we proceed. For the
present, take just one instructive instance from the
writer's own experience. YESTER, the name of a parish
at the foot of the Lammermuirs, was long a puzzle.
The writer communicated with the courteous Professor
of Celtic in Edinburgh University, giving a somewhat
foolish conjecture, which need not be repeated. The
conjecture Professor M'Kinnon repudiated, but said he
could throw no light upon the name. Then his con-
frere at Oxford, Professor Rhys, was applied to, with
the suggestion that Yester might be the same name as
the hill Yes Tor in Dartmoor, and was asked for the
latter 's meaning. We then learnt that Yes is a Cornish
superlative, and Yes Tor means ' highest hill ; ' but
Professor Rhys would not venture to identify it with
Yester, and declared himself puzzled. But one day
we discovered that the oldest charters call the place
Ystrad, and the meaning appeared with a flash. For
this is just the ordinary Welsh word for 'a valley.'
Thus were we supplied with a plain warning against rash
guesses, and at the same time found a clear footstep of
the Brython among the Lammermuirs. The joy of
the paleontologist when he cracks open a limestone
nodule and finds therein a magnificent Producius,
every curve and line of the shell perfect, is hardly
greater than the satisfaction of the historical philolo-
gist when he first discovers that a puzzling and prosaic


name like CARSTAIRS originally was ' Casteltarrcs ' (sic,
c. 1170), Terras being a familiar Scotch surname to
this day. Even yet all will not be well unless the
student also knows that the oldest usage of the word
' castle ' in English was as a translation of the Vulgate's
castdlum, where castellum means always, not a fortress
but a village. Thus Carstairs, if dressed in Saxon
garb, would be Tarreston, in Norman garb, Tarresville.
It may be taken as a rough rule, with many exceptions,
that if we can find a name on record before the year
1200, we have a fair chance of correctly surmising its
meaning ; whereas if no record of it be found till after
1500, that record may be of small scientific value.

(G) If it be highly desirable to ascertain the old
spelling of a name, it is almost equally desirable that
we should know its local, native pronunciation. Celtic
scholars are so thoroughly agreed as to the need for
this, if Celtic names are to be rightly interpreted, that
we hardly need to emphasize the rule wherever you
can get a native Gael to pronounce a name listen care-
fully to him. Such a proceeding will save many a
time from writing or talking nonsense. But the rule
holds good, to a less extent, about all Scotch place-
names, and about Celtic names even when the pro-
nouncer himself no longer speaks Gaelic. The writer
does not need to go far from his own Lowland door to
find very pertinent examples of this. If the reader
will consult the List of this book he will find that, in
the case of two of our local Celtic and two of our local
English names, the present native pronunciation comes
much nearer the true etymology than the present spell-
ing. The four names are the Celtic CAMELON (kamlon)
and POLMONT (pomon), and the English FALKIRK
(fawkirk) and SHIELDHILL (sheelhill). The liquids


I, m, r always need special watching ; and, when the
whole truth is known, it will be seen that the Celt
makes far sadder havoc with his ks than the Cockney
(see p. xxxv).

(7) It should not be thought that a given name
must of necessity be all Celtic, all English, or all Norse.
Hybrid names occur by the score, e.g., the Celtic and
English CAMBUSLANG, the English and Celtic NEWTON-
MORE, the Celtic and Norse GARRABOST, &c. Nor
must it be supposed that the names in any given dis-
trict ought all to belong to one language all Gaelic in
the Highlands and all English in the Lowlands. This
is far from being the case ; though it is true that some
districts are nearly unmixed in this respect, e.g., Orkney
and Shetland names are practically all Norse; the main-
land of Argyle names practically all Celtic, pure Gaelic
too, with no Brythonic or Welsh admixture ; whilst in
Berwickshire there is scarcely a name left which is not

When all these seven caveats have been surely learnt
and gripped, then, and only then, is the amateur in-
vestigator fit to advance a single step in safety.



IT is impossible to speak with strict accuracy on the
point, but Celtic names in Scotland must outnumber all
the rest by nearly ten to one. And their importance may
be measured well by the one fact that, up to so late a date
as the death of Malcolm II. in 1056, all Scotland was
purely Celtic. Wide and difficult though the Celtic
problem still is, answers can be found far more surely
and accurately than was at all possible fifty years ago.
Here, as in every other field, the last half-century has
seen science advancing with swift, sure foot. Fifty
years ago the subject of Celtic place-names spread out
like a vast morass with a little solid footing round
the edges alone a vast morass, with no thorough-
fares and no beacons, and with many a Will o' the
Wisp dancing deceitfully about, to lead the luckless
follower to confusion. Some solid footing there has
always been ; e.g., nobody who knew Gaelic at all
would ever be at a loss to say that Achnacloick
meant ' field of the stone.' But whenever any name
a little less simple than this was met with, or
when men began to argue, Was this stone a Druid
relic, or a mere boundary mark ? Is cloicTi a true
Gaelic, or a Pictish, or a Brythonic (Welsh) form ?


then at once arose a hopelessly bewildering Babel of
tongues. But now the morass has been largely drained,
and everywhere good footpaths run.

During the early part of our century all was wildest
conjecture as to Britain's aborigines, and most of what
had then been written was purest nonsense. Almost
everybody was satisfied that our aborigines were Aryans 1
and Celts, and that in Scotland the eldest race was
most likely the Picts. Learned old Pinkerton laboured
hard with the names (many probably spurious) of the
Pictish kings, to prove the Picts Gothic, while indus-
trious Dr Jamieson plied a lusty cudgel in favour of
a Teutonic origin. Mais nous avons change tout cela.
That new science called Anthropology, born c. 1862,
but now in a vigorous youth, has supplanted the shifty,
precarious methods of mere root-guessing. Those who
say they know now tell us, that what survives longest of
a race is its type of skull and face, next longest its place-
names ; whilst that which most readily changes is its
language. Anthropology has proved beyond question
that the primeval inhabitants of our isles, down to the
very close of the Stone Age, were those non-Aryan
cave-dwellers of dark complexion, black hair, long skull,
and short, feeble build, whose remains are found in the
long barrows, a people typically represented by the
tribe Silures, whom Julius Ca?sar describes to us as

Online LibraryJames B. (James Brown) JohnstonPlace-names of Scotland → online text (page 1 of 26)